Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Though pig farmers in Ontario have been encouraged by higher hog prices over the last six to eight weeks, recent wet weather in the US midwest is threatening crops and feed prices.
And that’s far from the only challenge facing hog producers. Speaking at the 40th Ontario Pork Congress Wednesday at the Rotary Complex, organization president Steve Thomas noted farmers are also being “dragged down” by more government policies that require additional training and further paper work.
“It’s fine for a corporation,” he added of the extra requirements, “but it’s very difficult for an individual or a family farm business to (keep up with new regulations).”
At the end of the day, Thomas said, farmers are being pressured to produce more market hogs under increasingly demanding conditions. And since farmers have no control over the price of corn and meat, they need to turn their attention to what they can – their farm’s productivity.
Part of the Ontario Pork Congress is about sharing ideas with producers to get the most bang for their buck. The producers’ forum, for instance, focused on feed efficiency and reducing unnecessary discomforts for pigs to maximize their potential.
“It’s (determining) those key areas of your operation and saying, where is the value and how much money can I save or potentially make by doing some of these management tips,” Thomas added.
It’s been 25 years since Don McLean was directly involved in the pork industry in Ontario. But he still knows enough to recognize that changes have to be made.
The tougher economic climate, with high feed and low meat prices, along with increased government regulations and changing public opinion about animal welfare, has had unmistakable results: nearly 30,000 fewer pig farmers in Ontario over the last four decades.
Many of those farmers who continue, meanwhile, have had no choice but to increase the size of their operations – it’s not uncommon today for farmers to have 450 swine, what was once an unheard of number – to remain profitable.
“We’re just not getting as much (of a return) today as we did back then,” McLean said at the Congress following a luncheon to recognize the efforts of past presidents and longtime volunteers.
But he believes the producers, manufacturers, and feed companies who make up the Congress have shown over time an ability to work together, compare ideas, and adapt to the new market realities for the overall good of the industry.
It’s been the group’s main focus since its beginnings in 1973 when McLean served as its first president.
“When we got together we brainstormed, we put ideas into motion ... The goal was always, let’s get it done.
“I never worked with a group so cooperatively, energetically, and faithfully as I have the Pork Congress.”
Despite the present challenges, Thomas said he believes pig farming remains a viable option for young farmers.
Pork Congress events like the junior barrow show are meant to encourage young people to learn more about the industry, he added, noting a lack of new blood “is obviously going to cause problems down the line unless we get the next generation involved.”
Thomas classified the Congress as a “one stop shop”for the nearly 1,000 hog producers who attended and were given the opportunity to socialize and network with their peers, participate in educational forums aimed at improving the efficiency of their operations, and to speak directly with suppliers at the trade show, which this year attracted over 130 vendors.
“You can come here and see the goods, see them in action, see the quality of the workmanship,” Thomas added. “It makes their buying decisions somewhat easier.”